Gaming and Addiction: My Hard Lesson - ADAMMWOOLLEY Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Gaming and Addiction: My Hard Lesson

I've been a gamer since the tender age of 5. Back in those days, it was easy to be a gamer and have limited ability to read, and hands too small to easily operate today's larger controllers. Yes, I started a sentence with "back in those days."  Please try to avoid conjuring images of an 80 year old gamer. Getting hooked on gaming at an early age was simply less challenging. Cutting your teeth on learning mediums such as Leapfrog handhelds and the like wasn't necessary. I played videogames almost every day for the entirety of my childhood and adolescence. I missed out on some things due to my gaming way of life, but nothing to ever make me take a step back and reevaluate the choices I was making. Adulthood, however, brought with it new challenges that would make me realize the difference between having a hobby, and having an obsession.

I married my first wife back in 2000. No, I'm not one of those guys who has a backlog of ex-wives sitting in a dusty, tear stained photo album somewhere. One ex-wife is more than I ever wanted, and all I will ever have. I was 20 then, and I can remember the chorus of voices to this day telling me I was too young and that it was a horrible mistake I was making. However, being what I like to call "stupid years old," I allowed these words to flow into one ear, travel around the part of my brain (albeit small part of my brain) that comprehends and understands words of wisdom and out the other ear. Although it would be too easy to blame the negative events of my life on being young and stupid, we rarely learn anything by trying to escape causality and instead point fingers.

In case you didn't already do the math, 15 years of gaming ruled over my life up to my marriage. Like a nicotine addict tries to put down the cigarette after so many years, I attempted many times to not let gaming consume my freshly married life. At first, spending time with my new bride was a priority of mine. We would go on dates, spend time at home doing obnoxious "husband and wife" things together, and we really talked to each other. This would be a beautiful (if not extremely short and boring) narrative if the story of my first marriage continued where it started. She was never a big fan of videogames, and so I was always cautious not to go overboard with the amount of time I spent gaming. However, as addictions often do, my need to "game" would swell more and more inside of me until it was no longer possible for me to quiet the urge.

The PS2 was fresh on the market, and I knew I had to have one. Without concern for my now joint set of responsibilities, I went out and bought one. Anyone who has been married before can relate to the sea of excrement I was in after dropping over $560 that day (system+games+taxes=holy crap am I in trouble). I exhausted the PS2 launch titles, even the very terrible ones such as Orphan and Eternal Ring. I rebuilt towns in Dark Cloud over and over again. I marveled at how much better Madden looked on this new system. Videogames had never looked or felt so real before, and I found myself lost in beautifully rendered worlds communicating with wonderfully designed character models in scripted dialogue. All the while my wife, with whom I spoke with so many times about fascinating and non-scripted topics, was left to wonder when her husband was going to return to her from his distant adventure within the same house.

Recalling exactly when things turn sour in any aspect of your life can prove to be a difficult task. Especially when you're not really paying attention to much of what is going on around you. This was true with my relationship with my ex-wife. I can't say for sure if it was when I bought yet another system and got lost in the ring world of Halo. An argument could be made that it was when we moved into base housing at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and I turned the second bedroom into the ultimate gaming room. A room so attuned to my addiction that it became a tomb in which my marriage would ultimately be laid to rest. Sadly, to this day it is hard to recall exactly when we just weren't a couple anymore. During the course of our marriage, I owned 8 consoles and 2 handhelds. It proved to be too many distractions for me to offer up any attention elsewhere. The only place we were intimate was the bedroom. I didn't really know my wife after a few years, and she knew all she needed to know about me.

Orders that would send me to Korea for a year without her soon came. Physically, I left for Korea in 2004. The stark and inescapable reality was that I left her long before that. I continued to game heavily in Korea, and spent many nights having drunken videogame battles with my friends. Once again, my marriage was an afterthought. While others would spend at least a little time each day on the phone or on the web with their significant others back home, my phone calls and internet communications were few and far between. There is one phone call I will always remember; the day I called my wife and she said it was over. It surprised me, although it shouldn't have. My heart broke, but it was more out of a sense of nostalgia and failure than it was about losing someone I loved. That was a tough nugget of truth to digest.

There was nothing about her that should have compelled me to let her fade into the scenery of the backdrop of my life. She was a very sweet, loving person. I can remember her smile, and the way she laughed. I loved making her laugh. There in lies the tragedy. Replacing my wife with gaming was probably the single greatest injustice I have ever committed against another person. While there are several circumstances that played into the finality of our wedded days, replacing my wife with something else, a "thing" really, was probably the lowest of them all.

Divorce has a way of making you reassess your life. While I can't say that I grieved over the loss of my marriage for long (as I said, it was over long before the ink dried on the papers), I felt compelled to look back and try to piece together where I went wrong. Mistakes were made by both of us, and there were many things I could have pointed to, and so I did. Addicts seldom ever see the real problem. It's always something else. For me, I blamed infidelity. I blamed the many deployments and the year long tour in Korea. Our exchange of words had soured as the eve of our marriage drew closer, and I blamed that too. Hurtful names and heated exchanges surely did us in. Satisfaction never came with these conclusions, however, and so I continued to try and solve a puzzle that made the Rubix Cube seem like child's play.

When I met my current wife, I was still a pretty heavy gamer. When I was courting her, however, I managed to put videogames second. Everything was going well, and it seemed as though I would get a second chance at marital bliss. We married without ceremony, just us and a couple of her friends as witnesses. It was simple and beautiful. We were happy, and we felt so close to each other that I wondered if life could get any better. My inability to figure out where my last marriage went wrong was no longer an issue for me. And so, I forgot about it. Meanwhile, lingering in the back of my mind like a lion stalking in the tall grass was just one problem, my addiction to gaming.

I can remember the first time my wife said that I wasn't paying attention to her anymore. Her words hit me by surprise, as I couldn't even comprehend what she was talking about. Truth can often cut deeper than any blade forged by the hands of men. That night, I lay in bed with my mind bleeding from truth's gaping wound. In that moment, I had a revelation that granted me a comprehension of what I had done. Most importantly, I was playing out that pattern again. Words cannot describe the density and weight of my heart in that moment of scathing realization. I was mocked by my own comprehension of the events that ripped my first marriage asunder. It was in that moment I had to make a choice; take a stand for my marriage, or let the plot of the last one play out here as well.

I sold all my consoles and games. I had to. There was no way for me to know if I could outlast my desire to tune out the world around my and get lost within my own home. This time, I would choose my marriage. For one long agonizing year, the only time I played and videogames was at friends houses. My sacrifice, however, did not go unnoticed. One of the reasons I love my wife is her ability to see something that is important to me and understand why, even if she thinks it's stupid. She has always been able to let me enjoy my guilty pleasures, even if they bored her to tears or made her cringe at the fact that her husband could be into them. With her sixth sense, she knew how much gaming meant to me. 

On no particular occasion, for no reason other than love, one day my wife turned to me and tried to convince me I needed and Xbox 360. I didn't want to put her through that. She was pregnant with our first child, and I worried about taking attention away from him as well. Regardless of my objections, she was dead set on making the purchase. With the apprehension of a tuna in a shark tank, I let her drive me to Best Buy to get one. Fueled by love and admiration for my wife, I made a vow. As long as she and my son were home and awake, the power button would not flash to life. It is an arrangement that has served us well in the 5 years since. I've never been a big fan of puzzle games, but it seems as though I finally solved the one that mattered most.

 

I enjoy gaming. Don't get me wrong. Most of my memories of gaming are some of my fondest. My son is now 5, and I've already introduced him to gaming as well. I'm careful to put more limitations on his gaming than my parents put on me, but mainly because I see so much of myself in him. I don't want my son to become obsessed. I want him to enjoy gaming, but I want him to be able to put down the controller to enjoy life as well. Gaming with my son brings back, for me, all the wonderful times I spent with my brother when I was about his age. I want to be a part of this experience for him.

 

This isn't about the evil of gaming. I wouldn't stop gaming for anything other than my wife and kids. And there it is. The line in the sand. The heart of this entire piece. As a gamer, being lost in this wonderful hobby is something I look forward to as often as I can. It can be a rewarding and enriching experience when viewed through the proper prism of reality. It is ok to get lost in a game. They are, after all, designed to draw you inward. What we must all remember is that there is a razor thin line between hobby and obsession. If you tread with reckless abandon on that line, you may too find yourself unable to recall what exactly went wrong. Life waits for no one. There is no pause button. There is, however, a pause button in that controller in your hand. You would be wise to hit it every now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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